The processes used throughout the spying revelations have served to make patently clear the already-existing hierarchies and centralisation within the activist groups involved. The revelation of spying in Peace Action Wellington (PAW) and the Wellington Animal Rights Network (WARN) were discovered early April as a result of the bouncing emails from Thompson and Clark’s office, but it wasn’t until the story broke in the Sunday Star Times that the majority of people in all three groups — PAW, WARN and Save Happy Valley Coalition (SHVC) — finally learned of what had been happening.

The spying was first tentatively discovered by a member of WARN who contacted Nicky Hager. Nicky, sensing a media scoop and yet another boost to his ego, jumped on the issue and asked for secrecy around the issue, to which the WARN member agreed. Nicky contacted a member of SHVC to trawl through their emails only to discover the same bouncing emails but this time from a second spy. Again he cautioned secrecy.

As far as I know, the only other person who was made aware of the spying significantly prior to the story in the SST was from SHVC, on that grounds that they could “help with ideas for how to best push this in the media, how to ensure that it was all handled smoothly and to prep for the confrontation with Ryan and a Sunday Star Times journalist….”

When the story did finally break the two from SHVC attempted to defend their actions, saying:

“In order for research into Thompson & Clark to be done successfully and to blow this story open, we needed to have a significant amount of time. The best way for this to happen, without Somali, Ryan or T&C realising that we knew was for [first person told] to keep it to herself. If word had spread, even if only to a few of our trusted crew, that could have been enough for someone to give Ryan a look or to say something seemingly innocuous that may have tipped him off.”

The email finished on a most paternalistic note: “If you have any issues with the way myself or [the other person] have handled this, we are both more than happy to discuss them with you.”

The initial WARN member involved defended similarly:

“My first instinct when I found the dodgy email from TCIL was ‘How can I use this to cause maximum damage to the bad guys?’ and I did put that before the interests of group democracy (in my group and the others) and I did decide that keeping it secret in order to maximise the damage, outweighed any security risks to PAW and WARN (I’m not in SHV). In hindsight I would have done the same thing (except I would have told someone in PAW)”

When discussed at a Wellington PAW meeting the “someone in PAW” meant someone quite specific who was, it turned out, told a few days before the story broke.

There are a number of issues here. Firstly, all the people ‘in the know’ were already the default leaders of these supposed horizontal groups. These are people who are already in positions of significant power within these groups. The provision of this information to these key leaders, the subsequent hoarding/centralisation of the information, and the decisions they made for other members in their own groups (or for other groups as was the case with PAW) only serve to reinforce their place of power. They assumed that only they could act responsibly with the information, that only they could act so as not to give away clues, and that this was perfectly fine since they were acting in our best interests anyway. In doing so, they have denied other members in these groups and the entirety of PAW to be able to make any decisions of their own.

Secondly, there is a very explicit prioritisation of the media over horizontalism in and among these groups. Nicky wanted his scoop, the others agreed, and group processes — which in the case of SHVC were clearly defined at numerous national hui — were readily discarded. This crude instrumentalism, the dismissal of proper group processes for the sake of the media is a clear rejection of the commitment to ends & means consistency that is a cornerstone to anarchist organising. God help us if the “objective material conditions” warranted worse! It is also a failure to properly understand the efficacy of the media, which is after all only a highly mediated means of information transmission. It has a significant role in the power plays of hegemonic politics, but social revolution — and not merely political reconfiguration — comes through creating new social relationships and organisations. But what good are they if they can be discarded so readily as we have seen?

Finally, the hoarding of this information put a lot of people in positions of unnecessary risk. PAW took part in at least one protest that involved arrests over this time while others outside the group knew we were compromised, and who knows what things were said around these spies that could have been dangerous. Those who knew of the likely infiltration of these groups had an obligation to tell others, but failed to do so.

I am dismayed at the reaction from others in the campaign ranging from “a difficult task. you handled it well.” to “I strongly […] support the difficult decision [you] had to make which would have gone against the usual unspoken SHV process of transparency and openess – and against the code of friendship with all in SHV.” A difficult decision about what? to deny the opportunity precisely for others to make decisions for themselves?

The discussion on the SHVC email list went on only briefly before it was deferred to this weekend’s national hui. As it turned out, however, both from Happy Valley cancelled their plans to come to the conference.